South Terminal construction at Denver International Airport – Photo: Blaine Nickeson | AirlineReporter.com
Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with staff at “my” airport, Denver International Airport (known amongst flyers as DEN, but locally as “DIA”). DIA is the 5th-busiest airport in the US, and 13th-busiest in the world. During the few hours I spent with them, I got an up close and personal view of the massive expansion project in progress; the largest construction project at the airport since DIA was originally built 20+ years ago.
David Achilles, who is an award winning director and editor (not to mention an avgeek) completed a very impressive time lapse video of his recent flight from Denver (DEN) to Burbank (BUR) and back while on Southwest Airlines. Before you get angry at David for having an electronic equipment on during take off and landing — have no worries, he received permission from the Southwest flight crew.
Frontier Airlines Airbus A320 (N204FR) at snowy Denver with "Freedom" the Bald Eagle on the tail.
I was hoping to do a review of Frontier on an Airbus A320 from Seattle (SEA) to Denver (DIA) and then on a Bombardier Q400 from DIA to Aspen (ASE). However, life doesn’t always work out how we plan it. I was heading to Aspen to fly on a Beechcraft Starship, but snow had other plans and while in Denver, my flight to Aspen was canceled. Instead of taking a low-level flight on a Q400 to beautiful Aspen, I got to hop on another Airbus A320 back to Seattle (Note: I paid out of pocket for my flight on Frontier).
Not being able to fly the Q400 into Aspen and not fly on the Starship was bad, but for reviewing the Frontier Airlines experience, this actually worked out better. For my flight to DIA, I had to get up at 3:45am to catch my 6:15am flight out of Seattle. Before we left the gate I was asleep and woke up during the final 10 minutes. The flight back to Seattle provided me a better opportunity to review the flight and service.
When booking my flights 99% of the time I end up purchasing the tickets on the airline’s website, since it is normally the cheapest. In this case, it turned out to be about $20 cheaper to get my ticket through Orbitz — whatever, it works for me. When buying a ticket you have three choices: Economy, Classic and Classic Plus. The more you pay, the more features you get like free checked bags, free TV, and the ability to sit in seats with more legroom (check out the differences). Check-in and printing off the boarding pass were pretty standard and I was lucky enough to get a window seat, 27A, on the flight to DIA.
Every seat back has a little TV to watch movies and television, for a fee.
One of the fun parts of flying on Frontier is wondering what animal will be on the tail. Every airplane in Frontier’s fleet (well, those with a Frontier livery) have a unique animal. If you don’t catch the animal on the tail or can’t view the animal on the inside of the winglets, there is a nice big image of the animal when you walk into the door and the flight attendants make sure to announce which plane you are on. I got Mustang Sally on the flight down and Freedom the Bald Eagle on the flight back. I think it is pretty neat for each aircraft to have a different overall livery and I would have to imagine it is even cooler for kids.
The airline was extremely helpful and quick with helping me with my canceled Aspen flight. I wasn’t sitting at the gate for my flight, but kept updating my phone with the flight status. The second I saw it said “canceled” I headed to one of the many customer service desks located around the airport. I imagine this was much better than going to the gate, since no other flights were canceled at the time and there was no line at the customer service desk. The woman confirmed there were no other flights to Aspen from any airline going out that day and started looking for the next day. I asked if I might be able to just fly back to Seattle and she got me on the next flight — which was scheduled to leave in 45minutes for no charge.
Even at 6'1" I had PLENTY of room in Frontier's STRETCH seats which give an extra 5" of room in the first four rows.
With boarding they have an “express boarding” phase. These are for people that have carry-ons that will only be put under the seat in front of them versus taking up overhead space. The concept of this is simple and genius. However, I saw quite a few people lined up that had bags I questioned if they would put under their seat and when checking it out when I boarded, they did not. The idea is great, but I am not sure how well it can be regulated.
Frontier has all economy seats that are leather with fancy headrests and a small TV screen in the seat back. The first four rows give you five more inches of legroom, but the rest of the seats have a decent 31″ seat pitch. Although I was in the back of the (air) bus on the flight down to Denver, I ended up in 3A on the flight back which was a STRECH seat. Although a little extra legroom is nice, even at 6’1″ I don’t think I would be willing to pay anymore for the extra room. I felt super lucky since I could have been trapped in Denver for quite some time, but not only did I get the next flight home and a window seat, but also one with bonus legroom.
Having LiveTV is pretty sweet, but it will set you back money. To watch the TV it will cost you $6 or $8 for a movie. Part of me whats to be like “what the heck?” knowing I can watch TV for free on other airlines like jetBlue and Virgin America and why should I have to pay on Frontier? However, it does cost them more money and on a three hour flight, $6 for entertainment would be greatly worth it. If you are flying Frontier internationally, the TV is free, but movies still cost money.
Before we left the gate at DIA the whole window ended up being blocked with snow. Kind of cool and kind of lame.
On the plus side, you are able to get ear buds for free. It worked out for our flight, since TV ended up being free since the football playoffs were on (although I think it might have had more to do with being over an hour late due to weather).
When watching the TV, I found the controls on the arm rest quite annoying. On more than one occasion I ended up changing the channel with my elbow and I could imagine if you are in the middle seat, it being worse. I kind of wished they had the controls on the seat back, but of course that could make people pushing on your seat back a bit too hard. Not a deal breaker by any means.
On the flight south I was sad since I thought I missed my warm cookie because I was sleeping. However, it turned out they don’t give out the cookies for flights that leave before 10am. Oh yes, I did get my cookie on the way back home and it was delicious.
The only real bad part of the flight was leaving about 1.5hrs late, but I can’t hold that against the airline. It was snowing quite a bit at DIA and it took us awhile to get de-icded. I have to say I was quite impressed with how quickly DIA got planes moving. Of course there were passengers who weren’t so understanding and started to get pissy, but I would much rather wait for de-icing than not and deal with the consequences. It also provided a fun experiment in social media. I had been Tweeting about being in Denver and turned out one of my Twitter followers (@CruiseNerd), was in the plane next to me and sent a photo.
They were both a nice and comfortable flights, but since Frontier doesn’t fly to many locations out of Seattle (Denver, Kansas City and Milwaukee) I don’t get to fly them very often. I end up flying through Denver quite a bit, but Frontier doesn’t end up being the cheapest at the time. I hope I get more opportunities to fly on Frontier in the future.
Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-300 (N655WN) sitting at Denver International Airport, waiting to take me to Tampa.
Airline: Southwest Airlines Trip: Seattle (SEA) to Denver (DEN) to Tampa (TPA) Planes: Boeing 737-300 (N655WN) and Boeing 737-700 (N747SA) Seats: 20F & 24A, in the back but both windows
Back on the road again. This time it was to head east to visit my father for Father’s Day. I got tickets on Southwest Airlines leaving on Thursday June 17th. I haven’t flown Southwest in quite sometime and I forgot the importance of checking in as soon as possible.
I am sure most of you know, but Southwest does not do assigned seats. Instead when you check in, up to 24 hours before take off, you are assigned a letter (A,B or C) and a number (1-60). People are boarded by group and number where A1 goes first and C60 pretty much gets the worse seat in the house.
During check in time, I was working on covering the Boeing 787 ZA005’s first flight, so I was rightfully distracted. I could have checked in at 12:35pm, but didn’t get to it until 4:00pm. Dang it, B28. At least I didn’t get the much dreaded C group.
Passengers in Seattle seemed to have a harder time getting the Southwest boarding process than those in Denver or Tampa
Some people LOVE the check-in game, seeing what the best letter/number combination they can get, but if you aren’t into the game and care about where you sit, you can pay a bit more to secure a seat.
You can purchase a Business Select ticket, which gets you a boarding pass in the A1-A15 range, a free drink (is free, really free if you pay more?), additional rewards credit and by-pass security lines at participating airports. If that is too rich for your blood, you can also do Early Bird check-in and pay $10 extra. Southwest will automatically check you in 12hrs before the general population, securing you a better seat. I say a “better seat” not a “guaranteed good seat” because there is no knowing what you might get. Southwest does not limit the number of people that can sign up for Early Bird check-in, so hypothetically if a lot of people pay the extra $10, you could still end up in the B-group (oh the horror). But to most the $10 is worth not having to remember to check in and making sure you don’t end up in the middle seat.
I love those winglet shots. While landing at DEN
My father is in love with Southwest and that is pretty much all he flies. His goal is to still get the lowest number possible. Even though he doesn’t get Business Select, he sure gets the Early Bird special every time. When I told him I didn’t get the Early Bird check in and had B29 I felt he was almost going to disown me (ok, not really).
He admits it doesn’t really make sense, but he just needs the lower number. He feels special having a lower number and is embarrassed to get in the B-group. I don’t think he has ever been in the C-group. I often wonder if he did get in the C-group if he would actually take the flight or just cancel. The $10 is well worth it to him and I assume to others as well.
Through my years of flying on Southwest, the process of getting people in their A, B or C groups has changed quite a bit. Back in the day passengers wouldn’t be given numbers, just A, B or C plastic cards. People would line up hours before the flight. And I mean hours. It was like people camping out for the newest gadget or the hottest movie, just crazy. Now Southwest boarding areas have poles that tell you where you should stand based on your number and TV screens that tell you when those numbers are for A, B or C.
While coming into Tampa we hit some lightening. It was super impressive to see from the air, but hard to get photos.
After experiencing this a few times, I have it down, but the first time I saw this new system, I was quite confused. For some reason passengers in Seattle seemed to have more problems with it than in Tampa. Even at all three airports, there were quite a few people that really had a hard time figuring it out, but we all managed to board the plane in a timely manner.
Some people really have an entitlement of their placement in line and I guess I can understand that. However, I am pretty laid back, but I seem to upset people if I have B15, yet I am standing where B17 should. I am actually letting people go in front of me, but that isn’t ok because I am messing with the system. Almost every Southwest flight there seems to be some passenger whose duty it is to make sure people are lined up perfectly.
It seems a lot of people really love the way Southwest boards the plane. Although it is not a horrible method, I enjoy having my assigned seat. I want to know I have a window seat and I will be sitting next to my travel partner. If I get my ticket late, I know I might be in the center seat and I can prepare for that. If I have a middle seat at the front of the plane, I might check my bag, since I don’t want to risk not having the room. With Southwest, no matter what your boarding assignment might be, there is no guarantee for where I will be sitting and I don’t like that.
Even though I feel I am being jipped in some way, it all worked out. Even though with all four legs I had bad seating numbers (from B15 to B49) I was always able to sit next to my girlfriend and I got a window seat. I spoke with Brad Hawkins, a Southwest communications person, over the phone to see if Southwest was looking at ever going to assigned seats. He told me that they never say never, but when they last asked passengers what they wanted 2:1 wanted to keep the open seating, but quite a few voiced concerns about the boarding process. That is when Southwest started their pole boarding, making it a little more organized.
Boarding in this method, also provides them with additional revenue, which lets them keep prices lower and not charge the fees we see popping up with other airlines. It would also cost Southwest additional money, to set up a seat assignment system, against raising fares. No matter what you opinion is, it looks like open seating will be around for quite some time.
It is not just peanuts anymore. Those tomato wheat thins were amazing.
After going through the line up process, passengers started to back up in the jetway. The captain from the SEA-DEN leg came out and was talking to us. He ended up talking to me about what turbulence we could expect from SEA to DEN and why. It was pretty awesome he was out there. Those sort of things are what make the Southwest employees well known for their customer service and I always wonder why more airlines don’t encourage the pilot/customer interaction that Southwest pilots seem to have (plus I always love the ties they wear).
So, not only do I like to get a window seat, but one where I can easily get those winglet photos. You know those ones right? Photos with the airline’s logo/name on the winglet with other stuff in the background. They are extremely common, but dang it, I like to take them.
Not 100% sure where this was, but this is one of the reasons I make sure I have the window seat.
The gate location of the plane from SEA to DEN was hidden and I wasn’t able to check out what model it was (well duh on a 737, but what hundred?). When I got on the plane, I could easily tell it was an older Boeing 737. The seats looked brand new, it was very clean, but the aged bins, stark white walls and old lights and air vents gave it away. Sure enough it was a classic Boeing 737-300.
On both legs to Tampa, flight attendants told passengers the flight would be completely full and make sure to share. They made multiple statements to the fact that no one will be sitting with an empty seat, so be sure not to try to save it (each announcement was done in a friendly and fun manner). However, both the flights had quite a few empty seats (lucky to get empty middle seat from DEN to TPA, but in VERY last row). Maybe the flight was booked, but not all passengers made it or maybe it is a good motivator for people to share and get seated as soon as possible. Either way, not a big deal, but I have found when other airlines say it will be a 100% full flight, it is.
Unfortunately none of my flights had wireless internet. Southwest is currently installing Row44 on to their entire fleet. If I have internet access, I could care less what seating letter/number I have, but I will have to wait a little bit longer, but it will be happening.
Not that long ago Southwest was known as the “no-frills” airline. Yet now, they seem to be the “frills airline.” When others are charging for checked bags, carry-ons, getting an exit row, etc Southwest is doing what they always have been doing, providing cheap and friendly transportation to destinations around the United States. They have a very loyal following (including my father) and I think they really build a strong and positive relationship with most passengers. I look forward to flying with them again, but I will remember to check in a bit earlier next time or maybe even shell out the extra $10.